Hatcher’s Junk Drawer #17: Love Is In the Air

Or Valentines are, anyway. Here’s a couple of odd ones that crossed my path this week.

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For those of a certain age, the classroom Valentine tradition still is a hideous memory. Especially for those of us who found elementary school to be a miserable and occasionally terrifying ordeal, mandatory gifting of a Valentine card to each of one’s classmates somehow brought the awkward social dynamics into even sharper relief. Nothing makes it weird like being forced to present a Valentine to the kids who were routinely beating you up.

I was reminded of this when someone shared this with me. DC Comics was in the classroom-valentine business for a while there.

Speaking of making it weird, maybe it’s just my awareness of Frederic Wertham’s accusations and of Adam West’s satyriasis-driven antics in the Hollywood scene during the heyday of Batmania, but that final one of Batman offering to swing with the recipient seems a little… off… to me. All I could think — especially with that shit-eating grin he’s wearing– was Yo! Key party in the Batcave! Which is just creepy.

But then again, Batman and Robin often unintentionally went and made it weird, as this article hilariously points out.

And Mark Evanier has his own classroom-valentine story, here.

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Playing around on Amazon Video, I stumbled across this weird little diamond in the rough…

The beautiful city of Batavia has been infested with robbery and violence. When Srimaya, a café waitress, meets a film director and his friend, they take her on a dangerous adventure full of thrilling action as a local vigilante, transforming her from an ordinary girl into a Batavia City heroine of hope!

I had some time to kill and the trailer looked like fun.

Our heroine is played by Estelle Linden, who manages to nail both the fight scenes and the vulnerable-young-waitress stuff with way more talent and effort than one would expect.

The film director character is played by Matthew Settle. Most people, if they know him at all, know him from Gossip Girl and he’s as close as we get to a star.

But what I recognized him from, and I bet several of you will too, was this:

He was Green Lantern Guy Gardner in the unsold JLA pilot that has been a convention bootlegger’s evergreen for years. (Yeah, that’s Michelle Hurd as Fire there next to him. David Ogden Stiers, Miguel Ferrer, and David Krumholtz were in it too; for such a shitty piece of television, they sure put together a good cast.) At any rate, Mr. Settle has dipped his toe in the nerdlebrity pool once or twice before, and he’s not a snob. Which is to say he leans into this hard and as a result sells this obsessed guerilla filmmaker pretty well.

All of this is by way of saying that against all the odds, I rather enjoyed this movie. It’s not good, exactly, but it’s fun. It was made in Indonesia, so it’s dubbed, but it’s dubbed well. It strikes me as a kind of a Corman-esque, scrappy indie effort to get on board the superhero gravy train, and there are a lot of cute throwaway jokes that mostly land pretty well. Most of it’s stolen from better movies — the cape bit is straight out of The Incredibles— and though the big twist/reveal will be obvious to anyone who’s ever read a superhero comic, there’s something to be said for playing the hits with verve and enthusiasm. If this movie were a rock band, it’d be equivalent to, oh, I dunno, a beloved local cover band that plays the hits of the day; no one involved is ever going to be rich or famous but everyone seems to be having a good time, and there’s worse things to do on a Friday night.

Apparently there is also a comic, but since I have been able to find out very little about this effort other than the barest minimum on IMDB, I couldn’t tell you if it’s any good or even if there’s an English translation out there somewhere.

Certainly the movie desperately wants Valentine to be a franchise but I don’t think it’s happening, not even in a Trancers direct-to-video way. I only stumbled across it because Amazon’s algorithm already knows I love silly shit like Land of the Giants and The Lost World.

Anyway, we thought it was cute fun. I must stress again that this is strictly second-tier, low-budget, minor-league filmmaking… but sometimes you just want a bag of chips and not a gourmet meal, you know? So if it sounds interesting to you, don’t spend real money, but if you have three bucks burning a hole in your pocket you can stream it here. Or here.

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TwoMorrows very kindly sent along Jack Kirby’s Dingbat Love, putting together what I think is the last of Jack Kirby’s unpublished (and in some cases unfinished) DC Comics work in print in a nice hardcover edition.

First Issue Special is coming later this year but I think the Kirby part of that run’s already out there in volume two of The Jack Kirby Omnibus. In fact I think the only DC work Kirby did that’s not available in multiple hardcover editions is Justice, Inc., because of copyright and trademark difficulties.

I used to think this sort of thing was insurmountable, but since companies figured out Doc Savage, Planet of the Apes, and Shang-Chi, I have to assume that no one thinks there’s enough money in the Avenger to be worth the trouble; after all, there were only four of them and Kirby only did two of the four.

Anyway, I’m digressing. The point is now we have this book to add to the published DC Kirby oeuvre. Mr. Burgas already wrote about Jack Kirby’s Dingbat Love! here, as it turns out, but I thought I’d say a little about it as well.

Let’s cut to the chase– if you have any interest in Jack Kirby’s career, this is a book worth having. The stories are definitely among Kirby’s lesser works, but as Burgas points out, lesser Kirby is still good.

The book reprints a couple of unused inventory stories about the Dingbats of Danger Street, who’d had a previous outing in the aforementioned First Issue Special. This strip was Kirby’s last swing at the juvenile-gang-of-misfits idea that he’d previously done with Boy’s Ranch, the Newsboy Legion, the Boy Commandos, and probably half a dozen others I’ve forgotten. (All of which, again, currently available to you in lovely archival hardcovers.)

They’re okay stories, more interesting for the art than the writing, which has a decided whiff of been-there-done-that about it.

For me the real draw of the book is the other two-thirds, putting together the material for the stillborn anthologies Soul Love and True-Life Divorce.

These are fascinating, as much for the history behind them as for the work itself. I’ve written before in this space about how it seemed like everyone involved in comics in the 1970s was chafing at the limitations imposed by traditional newsstand publishing– Crumb and the underground guys, Mike Friedrich and Star*Reach, Byron Preiss and his posse, everyone. Jack Kirby, perhaps more than anyone else at the time, was always striving to do something new and this was a lot of the reason he left Marvel.

DC, of course, when they poached him off Marvel, were promising him anything. The difficulty arose when Kirby actually tried to give it to them and it turned out they meant “Uh… Anything but THAT. Are you SURE you don’t want to do Superman comics instead?”

No. He really didn’t. Kirby had come up in the forties, remember, when a comics artist’s greatest ambition was to crack the ‘slicks,’ meaning real magazine markets. Thirty years later, he saw it happening with National Lampoon and Heavy Metal and he wanted a piece of that action. He tried to sell DC on the idea of a line of adult magazine-sized books mixing prose and comics and they reacted like he was speaking Urdu.

Eventually they published In The Days of the Mob and Spirit World, hugely watered-down versions of the idea.

Neither one got a second issue, despite Kirby having done enough work on both titles for each to get one, and the project was scrapped. There was to be a third title, True-Life Divorce, but DC balked at that and instead asked him to build the third title around romance set in an African-American milieu, no doubt thinking of the success of movies like Shaft and magazines like Ebony and Jet. It was to be called either Soul Love or Soul Romance (sources vary.)

(I’m hugely oversimplifying the story here and you really should read the book, which has several essays documenting this constant push-pull between DC and Kirby by people who were there at the time, Kirby’s assistants Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman.)

The stories are interesting in and of themselves, and they really bring into sharp relief the weird dichotomy between Kirby’s genius as a conceptualizer and storyteller and his faults as a writer and artist (something comics fans and historians have been arguing about ever since Kirby started writing his own stuff.) It wasn’t that Kirby wasn’t versatile– he did every genre of comic strip that could be done and then invented new ones.

But his tone was always bombastic. Everyone spoke in SHOUTED, INTENSE DIALOGUE– OFTEN WITH AT LEAST TWO EXCLAMATION POINTS!! OR MORE!!! With Darkseid fighting Orion for the fate of the universe, that makes sense. But talking to a marriage counselor? That’s just weird.

TwoMorrows had Mike Royer finish out the inking on some of these, as well, so they are much more readable in this book than scans you may have seen online. I gather that for those of you that don’t want to invest, there is also going to be a sort of might-have-been magazine version of Soul Love that will be out soon, with a cover by Alex Ross off Kirby’s pencils.

Of the two, I’d get the Dingbat Love book, though, because the price is only going to go up. The hardcover reprints of Spirit World and In the Days of the Mob are already through the roof, and though you can find both reprinted in DC Universe Bronze Age Omnibus by Jack Kirby with a lot of other cool stuff, that one’s not cheap either.

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And there you go. I’m off to a delayed Valentine celebration with my bride, and I’ll be back next week with something cool.

5 Comments

  1. On the topic of exclamation marks, wasn’t it the case in old comics that simple full stops (that’s “periods”, I guess, to you Americans) would sometimes disappear during the printing process, with things going off-register and all kinds of other printing pitfalls? I think I remember reading that about old Disney comics, and with Kirby working from when he did, maybe it was a habit he never dropped?

    1. Yes, exactly, and I think that’s part of the whole thing. All Kirby’s natural rhythms as a cartoonist and storyteller were geared towards big superhero action comics, with tropes and habits that had been part and parcel of his style since the days of Captain America. He did all sorts of experimental things with collage and so on, he was always trying different things, but it always felt big and loud. I think it’s just baked into his work. Sure, a lot of it probably started as covering this or that production thing — note that everyone gets introduced by name on page one because you never know who your readers are and you need to get them up to speed, you draw big and thick lines because of reproduction issues, etc…. but they became absorbed into his style.

    2. The period thing would be due to human error. When the art was shot on the stat camera to make the negatives, it would usually pick up shadows from where stuff was pasted on, specks of rubber cement or wax, and any particularly dark pencil marks, etc., so some poor guy sitting at a light table in a darkened room would have to go over the negative with an opaque fluid to cover over all those specks. They did this from the reverse side, so all the lettering would be reversed. If the guy wasn’t careful, periods would be mistaken for specks and cleaned up.

  2. Outside of Kamandi I can’t say I like his Bronze Age post-Fourth World work enough to buy a book like that. The execution of most of the stuff was sub-par enough that I spent years wondering why people spoke of Kirby with such awe. After I’d read his older stuff and all the Fourth World stuff (I resumed comics after arriving in America at about the tail end of new Gods), I started to appreciate him.

  3. Rob Allen

    Those two magazines that DC put out were such a fiasco. People who would have loved what was inside were repelled by the covers, while people who were attracted by those covers were probably disappointed by what was inside.

    I recently bought a copy of In The Days of the Mob with the poster intact for $40. Still looking for Spirit World.

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